Tag Archives: Mentoring

What Writers Really Need: A Trifecta of Teaching Moves That Revolutionize Writing Instruction

This post is written by member Patty McGee. 

A few questions for you:

  • Have you noticed that when you correct writing, students often pay little attention to those corrections and their writing does not seem to evolve from those corrections?
  • Do your students seem to approach writing as a task to complete rather than an expression of their voice and ideas?
  • Are your students quick finishers and reluctant to revise their writing?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you may want to employ this trio of teaching moves so writers grow in the light of your feedback.

pattymcgee1stpicture1. Be a Mentor Writer

A mentor writer is one who:

  • gives feedback (outside of grades) throughout the process of writing, not just at the end
  • shares his or her struggles in writing with other writers and ways to work through these struggles
  • brings a tone of support, understanding, and passion for writing
  • sits side by side with writers and names strengths and the next step

Teachers who have made this switch have found profound changes in their writers both immediately and over time.

When writers are mentored, they are more likely to take risks, ask for feedback, and make writerly choices.

Because writers expect not to be judged (or graded), the writing flows and struggle is normalized.

A few tips on being a mentor writer:

  • If you are in a classroom that must give grades, let the writers know that you will be taking the grading hat off and putting on your mentor hat. Explain to them the difference and what to expect from you.
  • Ask writers what they would like feedback on and give feedback on only those parts. It is not necessary to mentor a writer’s entire piece in one meeting.
  • Bring a notebook and pen to model writing strategies in your own writing.

This last tip brings us to the other two instructional moves to complete the trifecta: strategies and modeling.

2. Teach Strategies (with Soul)

Knowing writing strategies is a great challenge for many students. They may know that they need to elaborate (which is a skill), but how to elaborate is the challenge. By definition, a strategy is a how-to, a way to access a skill. Where can you find these strategies? The most meaningful strategies are found within your head and heart. This is teaching strategy with soul. Here’s how it might go.

  1. Notice the skill the writer is ready for or has asked to learn.
  2. Think to yourself, “If I were the writer of this piece, with the skills that this writer has, what would I do?”
  3. Then share that step-by-step with the student.

Let’s try it with this sample:

pattymcgeewritingdiagram

This writer looked at this page in her informational book on soccer and wanted to add detail. I asked myself, with what I can see this writer can already do, what can be her next step? While there are many possibilities, let’s say she’s ready to add boldfaced words with definitions. A strategy could be:

Writers of informational text often add important words and their definitions. Here’s one way:

  1. Take a look at your diagram and find the keywords a reader should know.
  2. Write them in bold.
  3. Write a definition or description next to the bolded word.

While this may be enough for some kids, the final, knock-writing-instruction-out-of-the-park move is to add a model.

pattymcgee2ndpicture3. Model

As a mentor writer who shares writing strategies, you may find that writers often need to see the strategy in action. We naturally do this all the time—I certainly do! When trying a new dish, I am more likely to choose the recipe that has a video paired with it. My mentor and friend Gravity Goldberg compares the modeling we do in the classroom to that of a cooking show host. Cooking show hosts:

  • Show a step-by-step
  • Have ingredients ready
  • Offer advice on the tricky parts
  • Narrate the strategy as they model
  • Don’t ask questions (How much ground beef should I use for this meatloaf?)

To model this strategy, you might use a separate piece of paper and say, “Watch me as I . . .” and then model step-by-step, going from the diagram, picking out a keyword, bolding it, and writing a definition. For you to model strategy as a mentor writer, you simply need pencil and paper to show and advice to add.

I invite you to build this into your writing classrooms. Take off the correcting hat and be the mentor writer who models strategies. I know you will experience what so many other teachers have—joyful, connected writing instruction and writers who grow exponentially.

Patty McGee is a literacy consultant whose passion and vision is to create learning environments in which teachers and students discover their true potential and power. She is the author of Feedback That Moves Writers Forward: How to Escape Correcting Mode to Transform Student Writing (Corwin 2017). Patty’s favorite moments are when groups of teachers are working with students collaboratively in the classroom. She tweets at @pmgmcgee.

Who am I becoming through my fellowship with CNV?

This post is by member Marcus Croom. 

A common technique for measuring change is to take a snapshot of something at one point (pre-) and examine it against another comparable snapshot taken at some later point (post-). As a newcomer to the CNV fellowship, I decided to create some early snapshots to which I can return at the end of this unique opportunity. My question: Who am I becoming through my fellowship with CNV? Following are three recalled snapshots that are important to me now. Toward the end of my fellowship, I’d like to revisit these snapshots and add new ones in order to document and describe my development. Because of my own interest in genre, I have thought about the genre I am using here and how to describe it. I regard this text as the opening episode of a micro-comparative memoir, a genre with at least two meaningfully comparative discourses. I create this genre to help me answer a significant question in my life.

Click: George Kamberelis emails me to introduce himself as my mentor and I’m geeked! I chose him as one of several potential mentors because his work focuses on philosophic issues, genre, and the nature and effects of different modes of classroom discourse. That’s exactly the kind of thinking partner I need for my work. Man, he’s published so much stuff! His CV is like a scroll. It seems like we are both in the field of literacy because our careers unexpectedly unfolded into literacy research. I think we might be able to relate through our less-affluent backgrounds and our less-traditional journeys into the field. We also share a background in religious studies. Hmm, he seems to be a White guy with convictions about racial justice. It’s always heartening to detect White folks who are not in racial darkness. George and I schedule a talk and we hangout via Google. He’s an intellectual heavyweight, yet he seems like such a cool guy. He’s already sharing ideas that are moving me forward in my thinking. Wow, George Kamberelis is my CNV mentor. This is going to be great!

Click: At our first CNV 2016–18 cohort Fall Institute at the NCTE Annual Convention in Atlanta, each mentor and fellow shares their story. One-by-one we solo, with a full soul, to our caring choir of color. I realize that I’m more impressed with who these amazing people are than withtheir scholarship and accomplishments.

These mentors and fellows are uplifting people, people who are resolved to doing good work in the world. I’m awestruck by their generosity and transparency. In so many ways, our times have tested these women and men, yet as scholars, they have remained true to the good fight of justice.

As I collect the contours of these scholars’ particular experiences, I also realize the terror of choosing a career path that is routinely and stubbornly anti-egalitarian, unmeritocratic, and constrained by the racially White superordinate assumption. Note for readers: Don’t misunderstand, I already knew this. Each story we heard raised themes that were familiar to me. Understand that I’ve been cross-training for an anti-Black world since at least Goldsboro High School (in North Carolina) and at each HBCU (Historically Black College or University) from which I have graduated. The terror did not come from surprise, rather from proximity. Notwithstanding all else, including Trump’s approaching presidency, here I am choosing our mentors’ well-worn journey: tenure-track professorship in a research-intensive institution. In this cohort moment, I feel like I’m standing in the hypogeum of higher education’s savage arena. In this close dialogue with the mentors of our cohort, I feel the weight of this savage arena—we all got next. Also close to me, though not present, are my beloved ones at home in Oak Park (Illinois). Come what may, and however I manage to navigate this savage arena, my path will impact my family’s future; including retiring my old student loans, retiring the soon-to-be mortgage of our second purchased house, and even retiring from the labor market altogether. As if I were nearing another African door of no return, I ask aloud, “What am I doing?” Hearing me, George supportively looks on as another CNV mentor at our table replies in a sisterly tone, “The right thing.”

Click: I’m at the NCTE Annual Convention for the very first time because of CNV. I’ve heard about this conference and have wanted to go, but the LRA (Literacy Research Association) conference is the annual gathering for my field and AERA is THE research conference, so I’ve had to choose carefully which conferences to attend as a doc student. The struggle is real. Without CNV, I wouldn’t be here this week. Glancing at the program, the sessions at NCTE seem outstanding. I’m glad NCTE provided the conference schedule through an app, the same way that the International Conference on Urban Education also did two weeks ago. It’s so hard to pick sessions. Each of the sessions I found (using a keyword search for race) sound amazing.

Time for our CNV Poster Session (p. 29). Dang, I forgot to bring push-pins! Never mind, I’m good. There’s a brand new box of clear ones under the boards set up by the Convention Center. The questions and feedback mentioned during the poster session are so helpful. I’ve gotta keep in touch with the folks who signed up for my contact list. I want to make the most of the network that CNV is offering me. By the time I graduate, I gotta have a job lined up. It looks like all of the fellows are having a great time and are connecting with a lot of passersby. After our CNV Poster Session, I head to “Supporting the Academic Achievement and Cultural Identity of Black Adolescent Males.”(p.41) I’m liking, and learning from, the way one of the researchers used “racial storylines.” Good thing I got to hear this sister’s presentation. Oh my goodness: A high school classmate I haven’t seen in years and George were both in this session too! I didn’t even see them until we were walking out. I introduce my classmate to George, and the three of us stand talking for a few moments about the fiery exchanges we heard. My nine-nickel classmate, an English teacher in Atlanta, is singing at a gig in Stone Mountain tonight and she invites me to come. That’s wild—what are the odds? Goldsboro is in the building, NCTE!

Debut: In Autumn, age 40 awaits. For now, an unsettling haze wafts between this last leg to commencement and my treasured definition of success. It hovers and occasionally wrinkles, making the specific steps I should take appear and disappear like drifting clouds. I wonder: Does it profit to have a better understanding of race or to develop racial literacies? Yes, this is significant, justice-minded work. But will my costly justice work profit (the university I work for, the schools I work with, the family I live for)? I don’t yet have the answers I want. Still urgently, at every possible moment, I move forward and work thoughtfully within my immediate clear view. When I must pause, I stand trusting. Make no mistake, I am not the trusting type. I’m learning to stand trusting at forced pauses because of defining moments that have left me no other choice. As it turns out, I am the situated captain of my fate. Remembering my peaks and valleys, I look back now and marvel with gratitude. I was brought this far by caring collaborators, helpful hardships, and immortal love. If it had not been for all that was on my side in this anti-Black world, where would I be? Now, with the added support of CNV, who am I becoming?

Marcus Croom is currently a doctoral candidate of Literacy, Language, and Culture at University of Illinois at Chicago. Within his broader interest in literacies and race, Croom’s research will continue to document teachers’ understandings of race and examine the influence these understandings may have on teacher efficacy, student identification, pedagogical reasoning, and teaching practices in literacy instruction.